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Friday, August 29, 2014

Denver, Colorado - Part 3

In Part 1 of our Denver report, we made it to our 21st Major League Stadium by taking in a Rockies game at Coors Field, tried out Denver’s nice but imperfect light rail system, and had a very..VERY…good dinner at the Wyncoop Brewery. In Part 2, we spend some time exploring downtown and start a pub crawl. We also got to the Denver Zoo which is a zoo, frankly, with all the field trip kids there.

Watch the Video!

Yesterday, we took a day trip to Colorado Springs (report coming soon). The Springs doesn’t have great public transportation so we went ahead and rented an accessible van from Wheelers Van Rentals. The van itself wasn’t cheap…$230 for two days…and looked to be ridden hard and put away wet.

Still, it got the job done and got us where we needed to go.

We get a hot breakfast buffet included in our rate at the Drury Inn and Suites. The choices are scrambled eggs, biscuits & gravy, sausage, cereal, waffles, bagels, and toast. It’s the exact same selection every day. We’re getting a bit burned out on it.

Skipping the hotel breakfast, we head to Colfax Avenue east of downtown to Pete’s Kitchen. Pete is a bit of a restaurant legend in this town who immigrated from Greece, opened a diner, and parlayed that into a mini restaurant empire here in Denver. There’s Pete’s Kitchen, Pete’s Sapphire Lounge, Pete’s Gyros, Pete’s Greek Diner, and more.

His kitchen is a retro diner masterpiece but there’s no room for a wheelchair in the small, original diner space so we sit at a table in the room that was added on. Today we feast on a green chile breakfast burrito, pancakes, eggs, bacon, hash browns, and French toast. It’s very delicious and just a bit more than cheap.

Back on the road, we head east of Denver to Morrison, home to Red Rocks Park. Like the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, this is a public park full of great red rock features. The best known of which is the Red Rocks Amphitheater.

The theater is world renowned for its striking beauty, attracting artists as varied as Willie Nelson, U2, and the Beatles.

There are no big acts playing while we’re in town, so we can just stroll in and wander around. Today, a couple of hundred teenagers are running around the place in between practicing for their graduation ceremonies which will be taking place later in the week.

Tim and I head to the top row where we can get a striking view down to the stage. If you’re in a wheelchair at this 70 year old venue, you can either sit in the top row or the first row. There is nothing accessible in between.

From our perch on the top, it is soon apparent that there is no accessible route down to the stage so we get back in the van and find the handicapped parking area near the park’s trading post.

To get to the stage from here, there’s a long ramp that hugs the side of a red rock cliff.

It’s a steep ramp and luckily Tim has his power chair. If he’d had his manual chair, I don’t know if we’d have made it up. Even so, I’m huffing and puffing a bit when we finally make it up.

A set up crew is moving equipment onto the stage for the graduation ceremonies, but we’re able to go around them and spend some time onstage via a ramp at the end.

It’s quite a thrill to be standing in front of the 10,000 seats…right on the same spot as John & Paul, Willie, and Bono to drop just a few names.

The view from the stage must be quite inspiring to these performers.

Our time here is up and we head back down to visit the trading post. While there, a bit thunderstorm hits and we have to navigate our way back to the van through a downpour of pellet sized hail.

We continue on to Golden but the weather doesn’t cooperate and we’re only able to get a few pictures of the town and the massive Coors brewery.

Heading back into town, glancing to the north of downtown, I see a funnel cloud and ask Letty if that’s what she sees too. In town, there’s just a slight drizzle and we head to the Cheeky Monk for a quick bite. Afterward, back in the car, we turn on the radio just in time to get the Emergency Broadcasting System’s announcement of a tornado warning.

Luckily, it’s a few miles north of us and we’re heading south. Back to our cozy suite at the Drury Inn where we can relax in the warmth, pack up, and catch the taxi back to the airport in the morning.


Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, August 25, 2014

Denver, Colorado - Part 2

In Part 1 of our Denver report, we made it to our 21st Major League Stadium by taking in a Rockies game at Coors Field, tried out Denver’s nice but imperfect light rail system, and had a very..VERY…good dinner at the Wyncoop Brewery.

Today is dedicated to exploring downtown Denver a little more and to start our Denver Pub Crawl (click on link to see the pub crawl portion of this trip on the Cocktail Hour).

Watch the Video!

Again, it’s the E Line from the Dry Creek light rail station a few miles south of downtown and across the street from our hotel, the Drury Inn and Suites in Englewood, Colorado. All the way to the end of the line at Union Station.

From there, it’s just a few steps to hop on the best accessible transit in Denver, the 16th Street Shuttle Bus. These great hybrid buses run up and down the mile long 16th Street Mall every couple of minutes. A ramp opens on the second door back (manually by the driver) and you can park in one of two dedicated spaces very easily. The driver will tie you down if you’d like but the buses are the only vehicles that travel the mall, and they don’t go too fast, so you might not think it’s necessary.

The 16th Street Mall is closed to vehicle traffic, except the buses, and the result is a very nice, mile long pedestrian mall. The shopping selection is a bit bland, mostly corporate chains like Bed, Bath, and Beyond; Corner Bakery; Starbucks and the like but all the good places in downtown are within three blocks or so of this artery.

Alighting from the east end of the mall, it’s one block to the golden domed state capitol building. Another couple of blocks east is the house that the unsinkable Molly Brown lived in.

Our pub crawl got off to an inauspicious start here as we couldn’t find the first pub we wanted to try (I mixed up the address number, we were only half a block away and would get there later in the week) and the second one turned out to be inaccessible to wheelchairs.

Walking back to downtown, we pass the Denver Art Museum, with its giant broom and dustpan out front, and the U.S. Mint, which was closed to tours on the Sunday we walked by.

Across 16th Street, our next stop is the Brown Palace Hotel. In business since 1892, this was the country’s first atrium style hotel. Its wrought iron balustrade and stained glass ceiling hover over the lobby area where afternoon High Tea is being served as we walk in.

The beauty of the lobby and the hotel take your breath away when you walk in. Nook, crannies, and multiple hallways invite you to explore the building. We go in for a drink in the dark wood paneled Ship Tavern.

Afterward, I make sure to get a drink from the old water fountain near the front door that serves up water from the hotel’s own artesian well located 720 feet below the building.

Back on 16th Street, it’s time for a snack and some coffee to take the edge off our pub crawl at the Corner Bakery. Continuing on, we meet one of Denver’s great characters, Denver Robo Mike, as we have drinks at the Paramount CafĂ©, adjacent to the Paramount Theater. Robo Mike and I commiserate about how shabby Shaquille O’Neal was treated by the Lakers and other assorted NBA topics. Yes, he was in full robot regalia, including his huge afro. He’s a very nice guy and I suggest keeping an eye out for him when you’re on 16th Street.

The light rail takes us back up to 20th Street. From here, the map says it’s a little over a mile to walk to the Denver Zoo. We can also take the 32 bus…which we just missed…but since the next one won’t be by for another half hour, we start walking. And walking…and walking.

It’s more like two miles and about half way there, the curb cuts at the corners start disappearing. It has turned into a trudge and a couple of hours later, we’re finally at the zoo’s gate.

We’re worn out and a bit moody. Hundreds of kids…who have helpfully been given noisemakers…are swarming the area on field trips. We take a couple of hours to see about half of the zoo before we throw in the towel.

We did get to see most of the birds, my wife’s favorite part, and a few big animals and monkeys before leaving.

At least this time we’re smart enough to take the bus back. Stay tuned for the final Denver chapter where The World on Wheels crew gets to take center stage.


Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, August 24, 2014

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Denver Pub Crawl, Part 1

Colorado bills itself as the "Napa Valley of Beer." With over 100 microbreweries and a couple of major ones...including the massive Coors complex in Golden...the nickname is apt.

Kind of like Munich, you're never going to hit all the spots you want but we'll make an effort all the same.  We did hit enough bars and breweries that we'll have to split this into two parts with the finale coming next week.

Watch the Video!

Our first stop was actually not a planned stop.We couldn't find the first one (we rectify that with next week's episode) and the second, Pint's Pub, has no wheelchair access.

Walking along 16th Street Mall, we step into the first bar we see that doesn't look like a chain. That's how we ended up at the Paramount Cafe, the bar and restaurant attached to the Paramount Theater.

It's dark with a lot of red lighting inside.  It's also Happy Hour so we're able to get a little break on the price.  Letty has the house beer, a Big Nose Brewery Wheat ale that is brewed next door.  Tim and I have the New Belgium Trippel.  You might be more familiar with this Boulder, Colorado's other beer brand, Fat Tire Ale.

Both are very good and as a bonus, we get to meet Denver Robo Mike, a fixture on the 16th Street roster of street performers.  He's taking a break and we get to have a beer with him and chat about the NBA.

Next, we walk over to the Brown Palace Hotel, an absolutely beautiful, century old hotel that features a stained glass roof, its own artesian well, wrought iron railing, and the clubby Ship Tavern tucked into a corner off of the lobby.

In this dark little wood-paneled room, we try a Warsteiner from Germany that tasted a little skunky, the Avalanche Ale from local Breckenridge Brewery, and a glass of 10 year old port from Graham's.  See the video above for some more from the hotel, which is an amazing place.

Our last stop this day is another Happy Hour at the Apaloosa Grill back on 16th Street.  Here, all Colorado brews are only $3 a pint during Happy Hour, so I try a New Belgium Blue Paddle Ale, Letty gets the house merlot, and we share a shot of Casa Noble Crystal tequila.  All very good.

That's it for today, be sure to watch the video above for much more detail about the pubs we visited and come back next week as we dig a little deeper into the local beer scene here in Denver.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Denver, Colorado - Part 1

In our quest to see every Major League Baseball stadium, we can usually do 2 or 3 in a trip because they tend to be in clusters…San Francisco and Oakland; Yankees and Mets; Cubs and White Sox…one destination has eluded us for a while because it stands alone.

Denver, where the plains meet the Rockies in central Colorado, has no other MLB stadium for hundreds of miles. 

We finally bit the bullet, got some cheap tickets on Southwest, and decided to make a long weekend of it.

Watch the Video!

It’s just a bit over two hours to fly from LAX to DEN.  With the low fare, $199 round trip each – tax inclusive, it was cheaper than driving which would be 1,000 miles over two days each way with our current $4+ per gallon gasoline.

Our hotel would again be the Drury Inn and Suites, our pick for last year’s hotel chain of the year, in Englewood.  That’s 8 miles south of downtown.  We picked the Drury because of the great experiences we’ve had with them in the past. The room was a large two-room suite with an accessible bathroom, king size bed, queen size sofa bed, two large screen LCD TV’s.  Drury also throws in a full, hot breakfast buffet, a lite dinner, cocktail hour, Wi-Fi or wired Internet access, long distance phone calls, and all the soda and popcorn you can eat for free.

The bathroom had a tub and I had called to reserve a bath chair.  Roll-in showers are also available, but for our use, a tub and chair are just as easy so I usually skip the roll-in to let someone who really needs it have one available.

Except this time they didn’t have a chair. After some back and forth negotiation, I had them put in one of the pool chairs and they knocked $180 off of my entire room rate for the inconvenience.

Even though they offered to find me another room at another hotel, I didn’t want to move because we had no car and this hotel is adjacent to the Dry Creek light rail station.

The next morning, after breakfast and showering, we head over to the rail station which actually turned out to be quite a walk. Each light rail station has a ramp at the driver’s end for wheelchairs. When the train pulled in, the driver deployed a ramp and Tim rolled in.

There are dedicated spots with pull-up benches for two wheelchairs and a third can get in the space behind the cab.  This is also the place for strollers so you can see there can be a maximum of three strollers or wheelchairs on each train, even though each train is designed to carry 12 to 18 (depending on if it is a two or three car train).

Although the light rail is accessible, and we never had a problem with it, they really missed the boat by not making the entire platform at train height to increase capacity. We did see a couple of people left behind because there was no more room.

We took the train all the way to Union Station in Downtown Denver. It’s time to play ball!

Coors Field is three blocks away but construction around Union Station forced us to add a couple of blocks to that. Even so, it wasn’t a brutal march and we arrived in plenty of time for the game.

It was cold and gray but Tim got us great seats behind home plate that had just enough overhang from the deck above to protect us from the rain that would come later without blocking too much of our view. It was a chilly 43 degrees that would drop to a cold 38 by the time the afternoon game would finish.

The stadium is nice and retro-modern in the way so many baseball stadiums are these days. The food was decent but nothing to write home about. The draft beer selection was dominated by the namesake Coors brewery and most really craft brews were in bottles but there was still a decent selection on tap. Wine, cocktails, and hard liquor are readily available if you don’t like beer.  Both food and beer prices were pretty reasonable for a major league stadium.

Denver is known as a home run park, due to being a mile high. In fact, if you look at the top deck, you’ll see a row of seats painted purple. This marks the exact mile high elevation spot.

Even with a center field a deep 415 feet away, we saw several balls leave the yard.  The Rockies pushed ahead 7-1 but a devastating error by starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin in the 7th inning led to a big comeback by the visiting San Diego Padres, who went on to win 9-7 on that cold, rainy field.  

MLB stadium number 21 was now in the books as our second coldest game, behind an April game at Chicago’s Wrigley Field where the temp was 26 degrees with a wind chill factor of 16.  Still, it was a lot of fun and Denver is a nice stadium.

We didn’t eat too much at the game and we were hungry afterward. A two block walk took us to the Wynkoop Brewery on the corner of 18th and Wynkoop.  Although the place looked full, there were actually quite a few tables open at this huge dining room so we were seated immediately.

Denver likes to call itself the “Napa Valley of Beer” which is a pretty apt description. With over 100 microbreweries and a couple of majors, I think it should be called the Belgium of the USA, but that might be a little beyond some people’s understanding. 

Wynkoop is one of the oldest of the microbreweries. You can taste their different varieties for $1 for each 5 ounce taster. We tasted a few with our dinner of gumbo, bratwurst sausage mac ‘n cheese, and a delicious buttermilk fried chicken. 

Our first major meal in Denver was quite a success.

Meal over, it was back on the light rail to the hotel and time to rest up for the next part of our trip.


Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, August 18, 2014


In part 1 , we had great, cheap hot dogs; went to a Yankees game; and paid our repects at the World Trade Center site.

The next day it’s bagels for breakfast again as we do some sightseeing and shopping around Manhattan in the morning.

For that, we head downtown to the South Street Seaport, a nautically themed shopping area facing the East River.  It's kind of quiet and not a lot going on.  We browse some of the stores, but frankly, there is nothing here that you can't get at any of a hundred other tourist spots.

Taking our leave, we head up to the city hall with it's beautiful fountain and gas lamps before heading back to the hotel.

In the afternoon, it’s time to get ready to go to our next game. We’ll be seeing the Amazin’ Mets take on the San Diego Padres at Shea Stadium.

Unlike Yankee Stadium, the subway stop at Shea is not accessible. It could easily be made accessible…the exit from the elevated station includes a spiral ramp down to the parking lot but it stops about 10 feet from the ground with a set of stairs leading the rest of the way down. Why not just continue with the ramp?

This means that we take the train one stop past Shea to Flushing-Main Street where the station is accessible. Outside are dozens of bus stops, our job is to find the one that goes back to the stadium. I see an MTA worker in an orange vest and ask him. He’s friendly and points us to the correct stop where we catch a 48 bus back to Shea.

When we called for tickets at the number listed on the Mets website, a friendly gentleman helped us out and quickly sold us three seats very close to home plate. They were very good seats.

Inside the stadium, however, friendliness from the employees was in short supply. From the snack bar to the gift shop short, rude service was the order of the day. It was not anywhere near the great service we got at Yankee Stadium.
The Scoreboard Sums Up the Weather

The game itself was good. The Mets came from behind to beat San Diego. There was a light drizzle and it was chilly during the entire game but it was never stopped. A highlight was seeing George Thorogood sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the stretch standing on the dugout just a few feet away from us.

After the game, we made our way back to Main Street on the bus, got on the subway, and made our way back to the hotel.

In the morning, it was time to checkout and the doorman helped us flag down a van taxi. He couldn’t quite work a miracle to find a fully accessible one, but this would do. The van took us over to Penn Station where we boarded a southbound Amtrak heading to Philadelphia.

Next week, it's on to Pennsylvania for more baseball and Amish country.  Stay tuned...

Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Cocktail Hour: Strange Brew - Part 2

In part 1, we brewed our Belgian Dubbel Ale.  It's been two weeks, fermentation is complete, and it's time to bottle.

Watch the Video!

We must transfer the completed beer into another tank, mainly to filter out the bits of dead yeast and other bits, and then it's just a matter of pouring into bottles, pressing caps on them, and waiting.

It'll take another couple of weeks of bottle aging and conditioning until it's ready to drink. At that time, Tim and I will taste test them for you. 


Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Friday, August 15, 2014


UpTake Travel Gem

We love New York. If you saw our first trip report to the city, you can see we were a bit intimidated but that soon passed. I would never pass up a trip to this great city.

In our ongoing quest to see every Major League Stadium, this time we’re headed to the Big Apple. Our flight is scheduled to leave John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 6:30 in the morning. We’re on Frontier Airlines today and have comfortable bulkhead seats at the front of the plane.

We taxi and wait. Although Frontier schedules a 6:30 departure, airport rules don’t let any planes actually leave until 7:00am. The flight attendant tells me they do this so they can push back and be first in line.

It’s a comfortable, direct one-stop flight (in Denver) to La Guardia Airport in New York City. Out front, we get to the taxi stand and immediately the dispatcher tries to get us into a regular sedan that is in the front of the line. We explain that the wheelchair won’t fit and we at least need a minivan. He won’t budge…until I ask him to tell me how to get there by bus since there isn’t a taxi that will work. That does the trick. He loads us in a minivan that was about sixth in line and off we go.

Our hotel for this trip…our third to the city…is the Beekman Tower, adjacent to the United Nations on 1st Avenue. It’s a roomy two-room suite with a dine-in kitchen and marvelous views. We were able to book it just between to high periods and got four nights for just a touch over $200 a night, including taxes. A quick online check shows that normal rates run from $276 - $350, still not a bad deal for a good Manhattan neighborhood. The tub was doable and the toilet tiny, but we managed.

The next day, we took the subway up to the Bronx to see the Yankees play the Detroit Tigers in the old Yankee Stadium. You could see the new stadium going up over the left field side. The corridors are were very narrow but our seats above first base were very good but the view was just a bit obstructed by the second deck.

The Yankees required us to write in for tickets but we were rewarded with a great location for the three of us for only $86. The staff was very helpful and the concession workers very friendly. Say what you will of the Steinbrenners, they make sure their fans are treated well. I’d go into the complete specifics of the stadium’s accessibility, but since it is demolished now, it just seems a waste of typing.

We met a couple from Tennessee sitting next to us that were at the game to complete a dream of their son, Wes, who had been killed in an auto accident. It’s a sad story, but they’re wonderful people who are honoring their son as they get on with life.
The Yankees went on to win the game and Tim says this is the best baseball experience he’s had other than being at the playoffs in 2002 when the Angels took it all.
The Rooftop Bar and one of the Views From the Bar
Back at the hotel after the game, we went up to their magnificent rooftop bar and had a couple of martinis. There is a mostly accessible deck where you can get a view from all directions around the hotel. Drinks aren’t cheap…around $10 for a happy hour martini…but just this once.

The next morning we have breakfast at one of the most wonderful bagel bakeries we’ve been to, Tal Bagels, just a couple of blocks north of the hotel on 1st Avenue. Hectic and delicious, you need to know what you want before you hit the counter…they will have no patience with you if you don’t. When you do decide, get in line, order quick, pay at the end, get your food, and find a table. You’ll have one of the most mouth-watering experiences you’ll every have.
It’s off to the subway, heading downtown. It’s time to see just what those idiots did to us on September 11th…the ruins of the World Trade Center. A cobbled-together walkway in the buildings surrounding the site give you a view of the giant hole that used to be the world’s tallest buildings. It’s accessible but in fits and starts as you sometimes have to take an elevator to another level or go out to the street for a few feet…but we make the circle slowly. It’s a sad and somber reminder, looking into that grave, of man’s inhumanity.
I wish they would be faster about erecting the replacement building…as long as that hole is there, al qaeda gloats.

Back on the subway, we head up to the upper west side for one of New York’s great cheap eats, Gray’s Papaya, located just outside the accessible subway station at 72nd and Broadway. For a couple of bucks, you get two delicious hot dogs and a glass of fruit juice. We go with the management’s recommendation and choose papaya. For some reason this goes real well with a hot dog.

On a previous trip here I limited the amount of food we had here so we wouldn’t be full when we had dinner at Tavern on the Green. My wife later told me she wished I had just cancelled those reservations and let her and Tim eat to their heart’s content. Today, she got her wish…which was an extra two hot dogs, I guess.

They are great dogs. Savory, tasty and packed in a natural casing that provides a great snap. Fine dining Gray’s is not. There are no tables or chairs…you just stand at a narrow shelf that wraps around the room and eat. Still, one of New York’s best food deals.
One of the Views from our Room
We finish the day with a walk through Central Park before heading back to midtown and our hotel.

There's more, stay tuned for Part 2...

Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick

Monday, August 11, 2014


It’s a pleasant 60 or so mile drive from Philadelphia to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We have just spent the last week in two of the largest cities on the east coast, loving our time in both of them…as long as you discount the bad time we had with our original Philly area hotel. As fun as that was, what we’d like…at least my wife and I…is a little slower pace to decompress before we return home.

Our hotel will actually be about 20 miles beyond Lancaster in the town of Mountville, about half-way between Lancaster and Columbia. We are staying at the MainStay Suites and get a wonderful, two-room suite with a roll-in shower overlooking the swimming pool. Next door is a miniature golf course and snack bar.

After unpacking, we hop in the car to do a little exploring and get some lunch. I had read about the bridge connecting Columbia to Wrightsville on the other side of the Susquehanna River. It’s the longest, multiple arch concrete bridge in the world, stretching in excess of 7,000 feet. Alongside it are the remains of a previous bridge that was destroyed by the Confederates 
during the Civil War.

  We made our way over there under darkening skies and stopped at a park next to the bridge to take in the view. It started to rain a bit so got back in the car and decided to drive to the other side on this old (1930) two-lane span. Then came the deluge.

A thunder storm of biblical proportions hit. Lightning was flashing all around us. By the time we got to the middle of the bridge, visibility was less than 100 feet. We had nowhere to go so we kept going until we got to the other side.

Tim’s going bananas at this point and my wife just wants to turn around and go back to the hotel. The rain eased up just a bit, so we make the U-turn in Wrightsville and go back.

That letup was just temporary as the downpour returned. We made it back to the other side and started back towards Mountville. Lightning still crashing around us. A bolt struck a utility pole as we passed, showering us with sparks. I pull into a shopping center and park under a covered drive-through lane in a closed bank for a few minutes.

The storm is not letting up. Eventually, we decide to push on, slowed by the lack of visibility when I see such a sight. With the rain coming down in buckets, lightning crashing, and thunder roaring, I see a twenty-something lady walking along the side of the road in a halter top, cut off shorts, barefoot, and smoking a cigarette without a care in the world.

They must think us Californians are such wimps there.

After a couple of hours at the hotel, the storm has passed and we decide to get some dinner. My wife had seen what looked like a fast-food seafood place on the way back and she was craving some crab cakes. We went there but they wanted an arm and a leg. With a kitchen and dining area, we decide to go to the local supermarket…Weis…and get some food to make in our room.

Pretty quickly, my wife finds some crab cakes in the seafood department. They were delicious and only $5.

The skies have cleared and the next morning we drive east of Lancaster into Amish country. Lincoln Highway, also known as highway 30, turns from expressway to four-lane road. According to the map, we’re there but instead of seeing bucolic farms and wooden bridges, it’s shopping centers, fast food restaurants , and tourist stops. Well, I take part of that back. An old wooden bridge sits in the parking lot of Dutch Wonderland, a local amusement park and miniature golf course.

A little farther down the road, we see Dutch Haven. It’s another very touristy place with antiques, blankets, crafts, jams & jellies, and more. We pull in because the sign says “free shoofly pie.” Why not?

We make our way in, which is a little tricky because they have a seldom-used wheelchair ramp at the entrance, and find the pie counter. We are indeed each given a generous slice of pie. It is redolent of molasses and delicious with whipped cream on top. That’s it…no sales pitch or making us feel guilty about not buying a pie. Just “thank you for coming in, we hope you enjoy your trip here.”

As good as the pie was and as friendly as the people were, something is not right. It’s like being in Anaheim by Disneyland or Kissimmee near Disneyworld. Just a long stretch of tourist inspired businesses. Where are the farms? The wooden bridges? The countryside?

Before leaving, I pulled out a list of the bridges of the county (sounds like it should be a book) and a map. I made up a route of the half-dozen or so bridges nearest to us and started on our way. That was the trick!

As soon as we left highway 30, civilization melted away. Little two lane roads lead through green pastures, farms with fields of tall corn, and people driving little black horse-drawn buggies. Farmers were harvesting the crops with horse-drawn harvesters. It’s a beautiful sight.

Our first stop is Bitzer’s Mill Bridge, a long, wooden bridge spanning the Conestoga River. Still in use, it was built in 1846. You can drive across it. We did.

We found a pull out on the road and got out to take pictures and a closer look. There are two pretty houses with nice flower gardens next to the bridge. We saw no evidence of their occupants, however.

Continuing on, we saw a few more small bridges and many farms. It was time for the next planned adventure.
About a mile south of highway 30 and just east of the tiny town of Strasburg is the depot for the Strasburg Railroad. A steam-powered locomotive sits chugging on the tracks. Many families with small kids mingle in the station area with railroad enthusiasts and other tourists like us. We find the fare is $14 for adults ($7 for kids under 12). For just a few dollars more, we could ride in the dining car and eat lunch (NOTE: This option apparently is no longer offered. Now it is $2 extra to ride in the dining car, plus the cost of food which runs from $4 for soup to $14 for a prime rib sandwich). We chose that option.

It was just us and another couple in the really nicely restored dining car. A wheelchair lift was provided to get Tim’s chair on board, and then it was a bit of a tight turn to get into the car proper. All the noisy kids were in other cars so we had a nice, quiet ride.

We were offered an assortment of sandwiches, lemonade, tea, coffee, or soda, and dessert. We chose turkey and roast beef sandwiches which came with chips. For dessert, we had shoo-fly pie and carrot cake. All were very good and served by an attentive waitress.

On the ride, a tour guide noted points of interest and an explanation of Amish culture over the PA system. The ride goes through some spectacular country with rolling green hills of crops and the occasional Amish farm compound.

Several times, we could see men in the field harvesting with horse-drawn equipment. About half-way to our destination, there is a stop at Paradise. A small farm area where you can disembark to spend some time watching Amish demonstrations and having snacks is here. It is not an accessible location so we stay on the train.

After about an hour, we reach the destination…a siding next to a highway in Bird-In-Hand. The locomotive is disconnected and moved to the other end of the train. A conductor puts several pennies on the track to be flattened as the large engine passes. On the way back, he’ll hand these out to kids on the train.

Back at the depot – rested, fed, and educated – we take some time to see some of the other attractions here. Letty poses in an Amish carriage. A miniature version of the railroad carries kids around a small course. You can try your skill and operating a hand-powered cart (gandy dancer)…there’s even a mini version for small kids. And, of course, there are snacks and a gift shop.

We spend the afternoon just driving around the countryside, taking in the scenery and stopping now and again when something catches our eye. We stop in Intercourse to shop at the Kitchen Kettle Village, a kind of touristy shopping center, and buy some T-Shirts with double-entendre slogans (“Caught in the Middle of Intercourse”, etc…you get the idea). There are many antique shops here and Letty has a ball looking at the blankets and farm implements.

For dinner, we make our way back to Bird-In-Hand to eat at Good ‘n Plenty, a family style restaurant serving Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch comfort food. The dining room is huge, I’m guessing it can accommodate up to around 1,000, and there are long tables. We take our seats…and are told to scooch in close to the next party and not leave any empty seat. I’m guessing the dining room is about a tenth full so I don’t know why we have to crowd, but okay.

If you’ve ever eaten at a Basque restaurant, you can get an idea of what it’s like. It might also be likened to being at your Grandma’s house on Thanksgiving as servers bring out bowls of soup and salad, ham, roast beef, turkey, fried chicken, potatoes, green beans, bread & butter. Eat your fill…have seconds if you want but save room for the ever-present shoo-fly pie. It is very filling and delicious.

Waddling out bursting at the seams, we take some time to play with the animals in the little zoo out back before heading back to the hotel.

The next day we decide to drive the other direction towards Harrisburg. The capital is a medium-sized city on the banks of the Susquehanna. On arrival, we stop and take a little time to walk along the river in the pretty park that is there.

Driving south, soon we come along a modern day historical landmark…the twin cooling towers of the nuclear power plant sitting on an island in the river three miles south of Harrisburg. One is belching steam…the other quiet and not in use. The reactor, Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island power plant, suffered a cooling system malfunction on March 28, 1979…just a couple of months after I graduated from high school. This caused a partial melt-down of the core and released a significant amount of radiation in the surrounding environment resulting in one of the worst nuclear accidents in the country’s history.

An ongoing cleanup is still in process. It was recently announced that the undamaged generator will be moved to a power plant in North Carolina.

Not long after, we arrive back in Columbia and get to see the bridge, and the civil war era ruins, crossing the river in the sunlight. One last look as the sun sets. Tomorrow, it’s back to Philly to drop off the car and catch a train back to the airport. Then it’s back home.

Final Tally from this trip

New stadiums visited -3. Bringing our total to 16 for Tim, 17 for Letty and me (the two of us saw a game at Oakland without Tim). Since this trip, we also added Seattle so now it’s 16 and 18 respectively…that number includes two for San Diego (Qualcom Stadium and Petco Park)

New states – just New Jersey, bringing our total state count to 32 for Letty and Tim and 36 for me.

Copyright 2010-Darryl Musick